Skip Navigation To Main content

Born: Patricia McCabe 1915 Rossie Place, Edinburgh

My dad and his oppo's in the armyMy dad had been a soldier in India, on the North West Frontier. He came out in 1912 and married my mum. They set up house, and he had a job as an insurance agent. Because he was a professional soldier he was still on the reserve list, and was called up for the war in 1914. He did not come back home until 1919. I remember being taken to meet him at the Waverley. I was fair keen to see this daddy. We found him slumped in the carriage apparently drunk. He was all over me, but I was frightened and a bit intimidated. I was about four or five at that time. Later on my mother told me he wasn’t under the influence, but was delirious and had pneumonia. They sent him home like that. My mother said he went away a fresh faced young man, and came back looking shattered and in ill health.

We lived in Gilmerton just before the war. I took scarlet fever Scarlet fever is a bacterial illness which causes a distinctive pink-red rash. It is caused by infection from a bacteria known as haemolytic streptococci, when I was 4 or 5. My cousin had been in hospital for a week with it and I was dying to get to see Isa. I remember the ambulance coming. It was a horse drawn one and I remember the clip clopping of the horse. The hospital was in Slateford. When I got in, it was a very long ward, and they put me as far away as possible from Isa, so I cried and cried. While I was there I remember the nurse coming with some brown liquid. I was sitting up in bed and when she handed me the cup I knocked it out of her hand. The bed covers were white so you can imagine the mess. She took me out of the bed, upturned me, and skelped skelped mahit my behind as hard as she could. Can you imagine them doing that at the present day! They would be sued! Isa got out a week before me because she was in a week earlier, and I still never got to see her. I was so looking forward to seeing her when I got out, but when that happened, poor Isa was diagnosed with diphtheria Diphtheria is an acute respiratory infection, or a skin infection (less common), that's caused by the diphtheria bacterium, Corynebacterium diphtheriae, and its toxin. Can be fatal, and she was sent straight back to the hospital.

We came to Dalkeith when I was 5 years old. My dad got a job with the Refuge Insurance. The County hotel was a painters shop, Cosssars, but at the back of the shop there were two or three rooms and an inside toilet. We stayed there. The property belonged to the Duke of Buccleuch. There was a huge tenement next to the close with two toilets outside. We felt posh. It was very slummy in Dalkeith. My brother was born at the back of the shop. I didn’t have a clue my mother was pregnant. I was 7 years old. It was January and we had severe snow. The men used to clear the pavements. When I was presented with my brother, I asked where he came from. The midwife said from the mounds of snow out side. I never jumped on the mounds of snow after that. I enjoyed taking him out in the pram. John was only 23 when he was killed in WWII. I had another 2 brothers Bill and George. I was still naive when George was born. I was 12 and watching my second brother Bill, when I was presented with another brother, but I said I didn't want him I wanted a sister. He still casts that up. The general strike was on and I remember Oxo cubes being handed out at school, but if your dad wisnaewas not a miner you didn't get one. During the miners strike when I was 11, a gang of us went up to the woods and gathered the kindling. One of the boys in the group had a widowed mother. There were five boys in the family. He found a broken branch so he picked it up. The police stopped us and the widowed woman was charged and fined ten bob. That is how harsh it was.

About 1926 the Duke of Buccleugh offered my parents to buy their shop but they could not afford it. We moved to the north of England to Whitley Bay. I don't remember how long we were there, but there wasn't any work either. We came back to Dalkeith and stayed at Vince Close until we got a council house, Crookston Gardens, which is now Gibraltar Gardens.

Me and ma ma, aw wis a bonnie bairnI went to St. David's School. When I look back on it, it was quite a harsh regime. On a Monday morning during register you were asked if you had been at Mass the day before, and I wasn't always there. I would tell lies saying I had been. There was a sneaky lassie said to me one time ‘that I wasn’t at the church at all. She asked what colour of vestment did the priest have on, cause they had different colours for different days. The head mistress was a beautiful woman, but she had a club foot. Sister Mary Winifred was her name. I do remember an incident where I was sitting at the end of a row and the teacher asked me to collect the books from the others. They passed them along, but they were dillydallyingTo go slowly and waste time, so the teacher belted me. It wasn't justified.

When we lived in Gilmerton I was on a bus on my mother’s knee ‘cause she had given my seat up for another lady. I started to greet. When the lady got up she said to my mother to give the brat her seat now. I got skelpedto be hit in a part of the body when I got home, but my mother regretted it later on. Another unjust punishment! My dad never chastised me. I was quite sensitive when I was young and I tried to do what I was told.

After my dad lost his insurance job it was a bit of a struggle. He just could not get the business.

I left school at 14. They were dying on you to leave school to get some money. I didn’t get a job right away, so and the tattiepotatoe picken' which I hated. I only lasted a week at the tattiespotatoes.

When the war broke out we were in James Lean Avenue. I was a journey woman in Bartholomew’s, Edinburgh, at the time. During my apprenticeship, which lasted for four years, I saw to the glue pots for the binders then I did folding. Big maps we did, on huge partitions. They were done in four parts, and linen was tacked on to these partitions like big white sheets. It was hard work. The paper was pasted and you had to join the left side to the right, matching them up. They were sized and then varnished. I got 9 shillingsIn 2005 this would be worth about £12.92p a week to start with, with yearly increments. My dad who was a great cyclist, bought me a bike at half a crown a week. The bus fares were four and six a week. I cycled in hail, rain or snow. I used to come out of Minto Street where the trams were running and once or twice my wheels got caught in the tram line, and I went right over the bike. As soon as my time was out I flogged my bike for a £1.00. By that time I was my own woman. I worked from 8.00am till 6.00pm Monday to Friday, and on a Saturday worked till one. Every Monday night I went to the Empire where they had the big bands and Gracie Fields. It was sixpence to get a seat in the Gods. You could get the late bus home then. I gave my mother £1 a week. I went to McDonalds dancing and the Roman Eagle dance hall, it was quite respectable. I also went to the PalacePalace dance hall in Dalkeith.

Me and ma ma, just keep gettin' bonnierJulie, Jessie, Peggy and Margaret were my pals. I was in mamy teens when a friend and I went to what they called the University Settlement in Edinburgh, near Infirmary Street. We had classes, keep fit and there were all sorts of things like mother's groups. It was a right community thing to help the working class. University lecturers (extra mural) would come and teach us and I got involved in as much as I could. You paid a penny or tuppence a class. When the war broke out we got first aid and nursing lessons. When I was 14 I went to the Labour Hall to learn this international language Esperanto. It was a course to last ten weeks with a lady tutor. I was the only female there. It didn’t last ten weeks as it fell away because of lack of attendance. The only words I can remember are kielve sanas. Which means how is your health. That was the end of my Esperantos.

My dad got a job at Eskbank railway and he was coming home one night on his bike when a soldier walked right into him and left him. His face was all bashed. Neighbours helped him home, but he never worked again. He died soon after. He was in the infirmary for a month but they had to clear it out because of the war wounded. I remember him dying through the night.

My mother developed Parkinson's disease Parkinson's is a progressive neurological condition after my dad died. She never told us. Me and my brothers joined the forces. John and Bill were in the air force. John was a wireless operator in the Lancaster’s. I joined the WAFS as a volunteer and was in it for three years. I was in Devon, Liverpool, Barrow and France. I worked in the hospital in Morecombe, nothing exciting. They had hernias and that sort of thing. I went to Bridge North in Shropshire for my training. Six weeks square bashing. Devon was great, it was like a holiday. I became an LAC (Leading Aircraft Woman) and got an extra few bob a week for that. When I was in the WAFS I went to summer school in the late thirties. I went to Kirk of Field University Settlement. It was for everybody, mothers and toddlers included. They had a weesmall international club, and that's when the Jewish people started coming because of Hitler. There was group of us went. I studied French but I have forgotten it now. I knew that Hitler was a bad man. A friend's sister married a German and she came here to visit, but before she was due to go back to Germany her husband contacted her and told her to stay where she was. There was a Jewish couple from Austria, a Mr and Mrs Schneider and he was dentist. He stayed and eventually set up practice. There was another man who was an exponent of Schuman the composer. I will always remember he played in a concert at the settlement in Roxburgh Street. There was a Miss Handyside who was signalling to the audience the change in the different movements so we would know when not to clap.

My mother was quite ill with her Parkinson's disease Parkinson's is a progressive neurological condition, and she needed help so I left the WAFS on compassionate grounds. John was killed in 1944. We got word he had been bombing over Germany and was missing. After the war the rear gunner who was with John and who had been saved wrote to us and told us the plane had been shot down in flames and he was taken as a prisoner of war. That was very unusual as the rear gunners were normally targeted.

Careful I've  a knife in ma handI was in the Trade Union as well and I used to go to St. Andrews each year for a week of summer school. One year it was Burns, another year it was political. They were nearly all left wingers. One year I went to Denmark on my own, with financial help from the trade union after the war. There were a mixture of men and women from different areas. The first week we stayed in a high school. There was a place called Aarhus that had been bombed by the Germans. There were a lot of refugees. It was a disputed bit of land that the Germans were still getting removed from. It was being reclaimed. This was in 1947. I went down to Harwich and travelled first class by ship. I met folk with different views and different cultures. I was always keen on education, but I only got a basic education. All that had a great influence on me. I felt indignant at the way we were treated as working folk. After the First World War they were thrown in the scrapheap. There was a miners’ strike in 1926. It lasted 6 months, and they went back to work for sixpence a shift less.

I knew John for years before getting married. He worked with Dennis the builder. I was a sort of free-lance person. He was in the army for six years. We married though in 1947. My mother was a complete invalid and I had given up work to look after her. We lived in my mother's house for 4 years before we got our own house. She died in 1955. John died in 1975, aged 59 years, because of a heart attack.

I joined the Labour party in the late 50's. One time there was some dispute over granting planning permission over housing. David Smith, Willie Moffat, Mr Quinn, Tommy Lean and myself and others were expelled. So we started an independent Labour party. We went for election and I was asked to stand. I got in naeno bother. In those days you didnae did not get paid for it. You had night meetings and I wouldn’t get home till 11 o'clock at night. It caused some domestic friction, so I didn’t stand again. When Letts came here in the 1960's I got a job in the folding department. I worked there until I retired at sixty one. I was widowed by that time. So was my great pal Julie.

We used to go holidays together. We went to Russia for a month which was a really enjoyable holiday. When I was in Prague with my cousin we went to a night club. It was very genteel. mamy cousin and I went to the toilet and an auldold man, sitting at the door of the toilet, gave us a piece of toilet paper before we went in. We had to pay for the toilet paper!



Back to top

information for screen reader users or keyboard users.To return to navigation please press F5 key

Adapted by Iain Tait